By Kenyon Stronski
Sunny South News
Picture Butte’s Fire Chief, Frank West, attended council during their Aug. 22 meeting to highlight the past month of the fire department, and how incredibly successful they’ve been in multiple aspects.
“We’ve been busy through the summer, had a lot of different things going on between emergency responses, a real heavy training load and a few projects getting started and finished.”
CAO Keith Davis stepped in, mentioning the fire department does have a large milestone to celebrate.
“Something to celebrate here is the increasing ambulance funding that we were able to get through Alberta Health Services, so we have $100,000 more than we are expecting to be in the budget because of the work that our volunteers do and it was a good win.”
West elaborated, saying the negotiations initially began at a zero per cent increase for the next two years, however, due to West’s determination they were able to secure a 35 per cent increase in funding for EMS services.
“It feels good to get a win every now and then, and a 35 per cent increase to our EMS budget is huge. All it took was a little bit of a fight — they seemed they were hoping to offer zero’s and roll through and we’d just tank it, but they were very receptive to our position and our needs here in Picture Butte and they’re very much appreciate of the service — they know we’re a good contractor. That was the whole theme of the presentation, was that the provincial government gave AHS the direction that they stay kind of status quo with the smaller contractors, which we are, for the next two years offer extension agreements with the hope that in 2024 we’ll be discussing a long-term contract. Right now, they’re focusing on places like Lethbridge, Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Leduc, and a few other contracts they want to get wrapped up,” continued West.“That’s the thought, that hopefully, we’ll be discussing a long-term contract but the most important part I think is that we raised that bar for discussions in 2024. I think if we skated through on a lower percentage increase, we’d be fighting a bigger battle, but now the next leap might be a lot easier to reach — whether that be a new ambulance or more staffing. I think we’ve been able to close the gap on some of the cost increases we’ve been seeing. Things like additional training and increased call volume, so we’ve been able to wrap up some of those costs. It feels good — we’ve been able to get some more funding from them and it also feels good that the relationship is still strong there and they’re still very much acknowledging we’re providing the best service in the community and they don’t think they can do it any better.”
Coun. Theresa Feist took the stand, asking if the town would be receiving the same amount over the next two years, or if there would be any increase or decrease.
West said the contract EMS has runs until Sept. 1, which is where the 35 per cent increase will kick in.
“So, in a couple of weeks’ time, our funding will increase by 35 per cent. It’ll stay there for 12 months and then will increase by another two to three per cent the following year. Our contract does have a CPI increase, so it’s supposed to increase according to inflation, but they have some tricky ways of calculating inflation. We’ve raised that baseline now by 35 per cent though, and like you saw, our fire revenue is kind of holding pace and far exceeding our projected revenue. We’re making some money. Our contracts between Lethbridge County and EMS with AHS are allowing us to provide a high level of emergency services to our local community, so it’s working good.”
Mayor Cathy Moore posed the next question, wondering how the partnership with Lethbridge County has been going since West has begun doing his own invoices.
West admitted there are constant discrepancies and back-and-forths with the County, however, staying positive he said it seems like an “eyes-wide-open exercise” for the County.
“They, for years, I think didn’t realize the advantage our relationship had on their side, but they were getting a really important service that our volunteer service was providing our citizens and now they’re paying a fair rate. I think they’re taken aback a bit by the cost, but I know they are fully understanding now what it costs to provide that service. There was some sticker shock in the beginning, but I think they understand now what it costs and they can’t believe they’ve been getting it so cheap for so long. It’s another agreement that feels good to finally be fairly compensated for the work we do.”
Bringing up the massive storm that ravaged Picture Butte on July 18, West pointed out and gave praise to everyone that got together and worked that day.
“When we have events like that, that’s where my Director of Emergency Management roll kicks in and it becomes an all-hands-on-deck, an all-municipal approach to helping the town move past these events and while we can only do what’s within our realm as a municipality, I think that our staff and the Town of Picture Butte responded very well. I was able to coordinate to get to priorities. We were seeing flooding in five to six locations that morning and afternoon, trees down on power lines, trees down on streets, and it was overwhelming for any one department to handle, so that’s where emergency management comes in and I think it worked very well.” West said, “I think all the parties involved and all the staff from different departments worked well together and we got the job done. It’s unfortunate to see, on the private property side, how the cleanup and recovery will take probably months, and I think on the shy side by my estimate, we’re seeing over a million dollars in insurable damage to private property in town. I hope everybody has the insurance they need and the insurance companies are doing what they need to do.”
Moving onto the fundraiser the fire department put on, West confirmed they were able to fundraise around $50,000 to put towards various projects within the fire station.
“They took on the ambitious goal of raising about $50,000 that they can put towards our fire station project and they sold out with some big help from some local businesses and entities that made some big purchases. It was a very well-done fundraiser and it warmed my heart to see them pull the gentleman’s name, and it seemed like a very well-deserving family that could use a vehicle and I actually pulled up beside him at the daycare today when he was picking up his kids in his brand-new Blazer. It was really good to see that it went to a deserving family.”